Living on the waterfront in Florida is generally pleasure, with its access to boating, fishing, kayaking and everything nature has to offer. However, in the late summer and fall, the one big drawback happens, that is hurricane season. My first exposure to this was a Category 3 storm off the Gulf Coast that was threatening Tampa Bay. Even though my house is approximately 11 to 13 ft above high tide, my wife and I were in a tizzy preparing for evacuation. We had the water-facing doors chalked shut so no water could get in. The furniture was tossed in the pool and we grabbed all of our essential items and insurance papers and we headed to my radiology office which was on higher ground. As myself and other panic-stricken neighbors fled, the police began coming door-to-door with megaphones saying “Evacuate now!” As I was loading up my car and fleeing, I noticed my next-door neighbor Roy, was calmly mowing his lawn on a riding lawn mower. He waved to me and said, “See you soon!”
Roy had lived in the neighborhood at least 15 years longer than me and had grown up in the area. As the police came to his door with their megaphones saying “Evacuate now!” Roy just waved at them and continued mowing his lawn. As I reached my office and settled down on the most comfortable couch ever, the media announced the storm had turned north and would not hit Tampa Bay. I said to my wife, we are going home and we loaded up and headed back to the neighborhood.
As we reach the entrance to the neighborhood, there were some police there. They said to me, “Oh your neighborhood never floods, and if it did the whole city would be wiped out. Come back in.” As I pulled into the driveway and went back to my house, Roy was out front, walking his dog and waved to me, and said, “Welcome back.” I then spent the next several days trying to unchalk my glass doors, and clean up the mess we had caused by evacuating for the hurricane.
In 2004, multiple storms threatened our area, but the worst was hurricane Charlie which had dead sights on Tampa Bay. Once again I evacuated, this time to the hospital with my wife, kids and several neighbors. Once again, Roy was out on his riding lawnmower waving at me as we left. This time, the weather predictions were more dire, and I wondered if Roy was making the right decision. When we reached the hospital and got everyone settled, once again the misery index looked high as I put sleeping bags on the hard floors in the special procedure room. I realize this was an intolerable situation. I went to the doctors dining room where a crowd of us had gathered to watch the weather channel, almost like a Super Bowl party. Everyone was eating and drinking. Suddenly the weatherman came on and announced that hurricane Charlie was going to slam Punta Gorda and head south, a huge cheer erupted it in the room. The irony of this struck me hard-core for I had a friend who lived on Pine Island and his home took a direct hit and he lost his roof.
Once again, I got the all clear to come home and there again was Roy walking his dogs as I pulled into the driveway. “Welcome back,” he said. Meanwhile, my partner had evacuated to Orlando and his hotel took a direct hit from Charlie inland. It had maintained its strength to Orlando and knocked the power out at the hotel. Evacuating into a storm was never a good idea.
The climax of my storm experience was hurricane Irma. We had just arrived, my wife and I, back from a Labor Day from a trip to Baltimore for a friends birthday party and to see my mother. As soon as we arrived home, Jim Cantore was screaming on the weather channel that all of Florida was going to be wiped out by a Category 5 hurricane. Realizing I had to think fast, I booked a flight to Raleigh Durham the next day and decided to visit my daughter and stay in a nice resort. This time, I was going to leave town. The last straw in this decision was when I drove out to the grocery store, a huge line was forming at the golf course near my house for sandbags. At least 300 cars were in line for sandbags with helicopters hovering overhead. Panic was in the air everywhere. The idea of waiting three to four hours in line to get a few bags of sand to stop a storm surge seemed ridiculous to me, but people in low lying areas felt they had to try to do something. It was hard to drive past the huge line of cars and helicopters and media helicopters hovering overhead without fear being instilled within you.
The next day, we flew to Raleigh Durham and arrived at the five-star hotel, the Washington Duke Inn for our hurricane evacuation. I was relaxed and confident in my decision, despite the fact that Jim Cantore continued to say that the storm was going to be catastrophic for the whole state of Florida. As I arrived to check in at the Washington Duke Inn, the girl behind the counter was talking to her manager in heated voices. The manager was saying, “Do we have enough generators when the hurricane hits here to maintain power to the hotel.” What? I said to myself, hurricane Irma is coming to North Carolina? The front desk clerk looked at me grimly and said that “It may have changed track. We think we have enough generators to keep the power on, we are working on having enough food.”
The one rule I had learned from hurricane Charlie is: Do not evacuate into a hurricane! It seemed at this moment that I might have made just such a mistake. However, by the next day, it became clear that the storm was tracking towards Florida. Several of my neighbors had stayed behind, so I had contacts on the ground. Roy had passed away many years before. My human hurricane barometer was unavailable to give me guidance. It was easy to forget the catastrophe that may be engulfing Florida in the early fall weather of North Carolina near Duke university‘s college campus. After two days, I went to the Duke Northwestern College football game and I completely forgot about the hurricane. I had become totally relaxed. The first half was exciting and I was enjoying the pomp and circumstances of a college football game on a comfortable fall day. At halftime, my cell phone rang, it was my neighbor Tyler who had stayed behind and did not evacuate. He was calling to ask if he could borrow my chest waders as it seemed probable that the entire neighborhood would be flooded and he did not want to be rescued from his roof by helicopter, so he needed to borrow my chest waders to wade back into the neighborhood after it was over, to inspect the damage. Instantly, any state of relaxation I had was gone. The tension was ratcheted up again. I went back to the hotel room to stare at the weather channel. My cell phone rang again, it was my wife’s friend Barb asking to evacuate from her house in Hurricane Zone A to my house in Hurricane Zone A. Some would question the wisdom of leaving one home on the water for another home on the water. This turned out to be a good decision, a very good decision for Barb. Her home in the Shore Acres neighborhood was approximately 5 feet above high tide, while mine was 11 to 13 feet. We agreed for Barb and her kids to evacuate to my home. It would be nice to have someone on the ground to tell me what was going on.
The storm passed east however, which for those of you who understand hurricanes, was the best-case scenario for us. The water blew out of Tampa Bay, almost like a reverse tsunami and there was no surge. However, they were massive power outages. Interestingly enough, our neighborhood was one of the only neighborhoods in all of Pinellas county to not lose power as we all had underground lines and were directly connected to the nearby power plant. Barb was able to go to work at a nearby hospital and come home to an air-conditioned house while virtually the entire rest of the county suffered through sweltering temperatures with no power for almost 8 days. Her decision to evacuate from one Hurricane Zone A house to another Hurricane Zone A house turned out to be a good decision.
The day after the hurricane passed, I got another phone call from the other side of the neighborhood. Looters are at Harbor Isle! Some men in black wetsuits were seen on the other side of the neighborhood wandering between the houses. Why does everyone call me. I wondered. So, I called my neighbors Greg and Tyler that were still on the ground. I called several of my neighbors who are still on the street. They formed an armed vigilante squad and headed towards the other side of the neighborhood to investigate. Unfortunately, they had to go on foot as a large tree had blocked the road near my house. As they arrived on the other side of the neighborhood, they encountered several men in black wetsuits. Much to their chagrin, it turned out these men were police officers who had arrived by boat, and were inspecting for damage. Luckily, the “vigilante squad” had not displayed their weapons and the matter was resolved peacefully. The “vigilante squad” pulled out several chainsaws, and sawed the part the large tree that blocked entrance to my neighborhood. Thank God for these neighbors. I enjoyed my two-week vacation in North Carolina with power and find food. I decided this would be my new plan going forward.
While a resident at Tampa General Hospital, Hurricane Elena threatened the hospital because the generator was in the basement. All of the patients had to be transferred or evacuated to other hospitals. Luckily, I had traded my call, and the resident that took my call may have had to be evacuated as well. I think the hospital has since switched the location of their power from that time. Instead, my wife and I attended a wedding during the hurricane which was not canceled. As the Priest welcomed us to the chapel for this wedding, he said if you hear a tornado or high winds ripping through the trees, get under a pew. Hardly anyone attended the wedding, but I was in the wedding, and I was forced to be there. I felt sorry for the bride and groom as their big day was basically stormed out. I miss my neighbor Roy, who I learned to gauge the seriousness of the storm, based on his behavior. If I had seen Roy packing up and leaving, I knew he would be in trouble. The police’s new measure of writing Social Security numbers on your arm if you refuse to leave, Roy probably would’ve agreed to, and continued mowing his lawn.
In 2022, the Weather Channel proudly announced they could detect tropical systems days earlier than they used to be able to. They considered this a great victory but in reality, for those of living in Zone A, this adds even more days of stress, as they still seem unable to pinpoint the exact location of landfall. I began keeping an eye on the soon-to-be-named Ian down by the Venezuelan coast a week in advance. I did not like the location of this system that was similar to Hurricane Charlie. I went about my normal daily business, as we in Zone A do, trying not to think about what could happen. But nowhere could you get away from it. We went out to dinner in Tampa a week before the storm hit. My wife and the couple we were with wanted a view of the water. I was forced to stare at the TV in the other direction, which showed nothing but a large hurricane coming ashore directly in Tampa Bay. It was hard to enjoy my dinner. That evening, I saw my neighbor, Greg, who had supplanted Roy as the hurricane guru. He told me of a new app, Windy.com that he used for his shipping company to accurately forecast storms. We downloaded the app and it promptly showed that Hurricane Ian was coming ashore at Naples. This was almost a week ahead of the storm. I should have trusted Greg as he had a history of helping out during storms, he would frequently don a black wet suit and proceed door-to-door to help neighbors secure their homes prior to a storm. Greg would often throw the chairs and pool furniture in the swimming pools. His actual job required him to be able to route freighter ships in the Gulf of Mexico around storms. So, if anyone would understand the best tool for forecasting the weather, he would. Wearing his wetsuit, he had somewhat of a reputation for being a superhero in the neighborhood.
The key to decision making in a storm is knowing the exact location where it is coming ashore. The Weather Channel keeps people glued to their TVs because of an inability to determine the exact location and instead use large cones. Unfortunately, I did not trust the Windy app and continued to listen as Jim Cantore arrived in Tampa Bay once again proclaiming “the end of the Tampa Bay Metro area”, including my house. The big decision is whether to leave or not, and it is better to make this decision in advance of the traffic.
As I mulled over my options, I decided to go to the Tampa Bay’s Bucs home opener game between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, which resulted in the considerable clearing of my thought process. As I was driving home from the game, I noticed on the street near my house the start of a sand bag line. This was the hint that maybe it was time to leave. As I walked that evening, I ran into one of my neighbors and his girlfriend, and we were discussing the storm. She said to me, “Oh, you have to go south, the storm is going north, your best bet is to go to Ft. Myers. I decided the best bet was probably to go inland to Orlando this time, to the Shingle Creek Resort, that I had previously stayed at. The Windy app continued to show that Ft. Myers would be a very poor decision. Monday morning was heralded with a line of over 400 cars waiting outside my neighborhood for sandbags. With media helicopters circling overhead, I made my decision. I was going to Orlando.
The next decision people must make in Zone A, is what are they going to take? What valuables are they going to take? You have to decide, “is your house going to flood? Is my roof gonna be blown off?” So, we decided to put a lot of my critical items on the stairwell, anticipating either possibility. Having to go thru this thought process is extremely stressful. Once my decision was made, I was calmly loaded all of our most valuable possessions into our vehicle and took off for Orlando. My neighbor, Greg, was staying at all costs, for it was helpful to have him on the ground, as he trusted the Windy app.
Once in Orlando, I felt somewhat relaxed at being at a nice resort and removed from the situation. My wife and I decided to go shopping at a nearby Bass Pro Shop. As we arrived at this store, I noticed they were boarding up the windows. I was shocked. Rule number one for a hurricane zone is never to evacuate into a hurricane. Once again, I had not studied the Windy app showed the storm clearly going right over Orlando.
After returning home from Bass Pro Shops, I decided to go bass fishing at my resort. The wind was beginning to pick up as I hit some of lakes along the golf course. The fishing was excellent, and I caught multiple bass, I decided to fish closer to the resort in several small lakes.
On my first cast I hooked a large bass and was having trouble reeling it in - when I realized that there were actually two fish on the line, one on the hook and a second fish that hit the worm as it slid up the line and got tangled but was not actually hooked. Somehow, I was able to land both fish after a considerable battle.
. Somehow, I was able to land both fish after a considerable battle.
After releasing the bass, I looked up and saw four large angry sandhill cranes approaching. They are some largest members of the crane family and reminded me of dinosaurs coming across the golf course. They make a sound somewhere between a squawk and a foghorn that can be heard for hundreds of yards. I felt like I was fishing in Jurassic Park. I decided to move on. I headed further back into the swampy area outside of the golf course, when I noticed a vehicle driving with the lights on. Was this golf security? I had previously seen a man in a golf cart who told me that I shouldn’t fish on the golf course, but, as there were no golfers, I paid him no mind. I couldn’t imagine that he had actually called security. However, I noticed a license plate on the truck had a Georgia insignia with GO DAWGS, unusual for a security truck. I held my ground when I noticed a husky individual get out of the truck and spit some tobacco. He removed a bait casting bass fishing rod from his truck. Recognizing a brother in arms, I came out of the bushes and began to fish again as he gave me a thumbs up.
When I returned to the resort my wife’s phone was lighting up with all of the neighbors making their last-minute decisions in a panic, for now the Weather Channel was predicting the demise of the Tampa Bay area. The key to determining what to do in a storm, is whether the storm is heading north or south of you. If the storm proceeds south of Tampa Bay, there would be no surge. If it hits just north of Tampa Bay, there would be massive surge - a big problem. The Windy app consistently demonstrated the storm going south. My new neighbors from Denmark, having only been in the country for several weeks, were also panicked. They had relatives in Naples and were thinking of evacuating there. The Windy app didn’t look kindly upon this decision, so I encouraged them to go north. They ultimately decided to stay. That evening, the storm came to shore south of Tampa Bay as predicted by the Windy app, and once again, my house was spared.
However, Hurricane Ian proceeded inland in a route that carried it directly over the Shingle Creek Resort. The resort was built like a fortress. I noticed nothing from the safety of the hotel except trees bending in the wind.
No golfers were obviously out on the course so during a lull in the storm I decided to make a brief foray to the lake nearest the hotel and try a few casts. This proved to be a poor decision also as I could barely stand in the wind of a category 1 storm. Even in the hurricane, the security guard in the golf cart emerged to inform me that no one was allowed out of the building which seemed like a reasonable request at this point. I had only attempted a single cast. I learned never to cast into the wind in a hurricane.
After the storm passed, we waited an additional day before attempting to return to St. Petersburg given the underground power lines in my neighborhood were out. Once the neighbors gave the “all clear” that the power was back on we attempted to drive down the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa. As I merged on to I-4 from the hotel exit, the line of power trucks and emergency vehicles stretched as far as the eye could see. We crawled along at approximately 10 miles an hour for four and a half hours so what would have been an hour and fifteen-minute drive took four and a half hours. By the time I reached Plant City Florida after three hours, the Ways Traffic App told me to exit in Plant City and take a shortcut. As we attempted this shortcut, we came over a hill only to find a bridge washed out with power trucks and downed trees everywhere and the road was closed. Apparently, Ways had not yet detected this problem. We clawed our way back to the interstate. There appeared to be no power in Plant City yet a single Chick-Fil-A restaurant was open with the lights on. As my wife was hungry, we decided to stop. The line stretched out the door and around the parking lot. This seemed to be the only food in Plant City. The restaurant however was highly organized and managed to feed what looked like the entire in and orderly fashion. When I arrived home, I was greatly relieved to find everything intact. I had survived yet another Hurricane unscathed.